D.G. Myers of Commentary thought it was a huge gaffe, Jonah Goldberg was “underwhelmed” by Cain’s performance, and Jim Geraghty thought the resulting kerfuffle over the “right of return” answer was much ado about nothing. I’m somewhere between Myers and Goldberg. Jim’s right that this is, for 90+ percent of the public, a boutique issue that won’t affect how they vote. It’s hardly disqualifying. But then he says:
All Cain’s comment did was reveal that he hasn’t given more than a moment’s thought to what the Palestinians — you know, the folks who elected Hamas to run their government and who danced on 9/11 — are demanding. I suppose that if you cling to the idea that only thing holding back peace in our time is a sufficient number of White House all-nighters on creative cartography, then yes, you would want a president familiar with “right of return” and the whole cavalcade of Palestinian demands. If you think the root of the problem is a culture that celebrates suicide bombers more than doctors and entrepreneurs, then this looks like small potatoes; all the presidential familiarity in the world with the “right of return” argument won’t make much difference.
It’s one thing to hear the argument and to rule it out as a red herring, it’s another never to have heard it in the first place — in which case, how can you make the sort of bold pronouncements about Israeli/Palestinian negotiations that Cain’s making here? Watch what he says at the very end of the clip, after he blanks on the phrase “right of return.” Quote: “I don’t think they [i.e. Israel] have a big problem with people returning.” Really? They have an existential problem with people returning, actually; Bibi himself made that point in the course of his now-famous lecture in the Oval Office last week. Cain obviously cares passionately about this issue, but then so do a lot of conservatives and yet somehow they’ve seen fit to acquaint themselves with the “right of return.” Are the writers at Commentary, say, poorer advocates for Israel because they know the Palestinians’ arguments? Was Bush?
This wasn’t the only case where Cain took a de facto pass on foreign policy either:
GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain said Sunday he doesn’t have a plan for the war on terror and won’t share his thoughts with voters until he gets into the White House.
“The right approach is that the day I’m elected, I would start on that plan,” he told “Fox Sunday News.”
Mr. Cain, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO, said he can’t make those decisions until he sees intelligence files that he is not privy to at this point.
How would an Obama/Cain presidential debate on foreign policy and counterterrorism proceed if he can’t outline a plan until he’s sworn in and starts getting CIA briefings? As Reason’s Mike Riggs recently noted, there’s an odd dynamic here where on the one hand Cain is modest almost to a fault about making any commitments abroad until he has maximum information from U.S. intel, and on the other hand he’s fiercely pro-Israel despite seemingly not knowing the most basic basics about the Palestinians’ most basic demands. Why?
I’m curious to see where commenters come down on the Myers/Goldberg/Geraghty spectrum. There were a lot of facepalms in yesterday’s Headlines thread about this, but whether that’s because people agree with my take here or whether our very large, very strong Palin constituency is eager to score points on Cain before he poses a serious threat in Iowa, I don’t know. Let’s find out!